September 17, 2019

High Holy Days: Services are Smaller but just as holy

The Los Angeles Jewish Singles Meeting Place, a group that arranges small-scale events every week to connect middle-aged singles in a non-threatening environment, might seem an unlikely sponsor for community-wide services during the High Holy Days.

And yet, since 1977, the group has done just that, organizing prayer sessions as the Los Angeles Jewish High Holy Days Meeting Place in a way that is not limited to singles and has nothing to do with hooking up.

“The best aspect is to bring the community together,” event coordinator Stan Sperling said. “This is really for people who for some reason can’t afford the regular temple service. It’s a low-cost alternative. Our goal is to reach these people. I get great satisfaction ever year, being able to reach these people.”

Tickets for this year’s services cost $45. They will take place at Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church in Canoga Park.

The former site of Congregation Beth Kodesh — which is now known as Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills — offers glimpses of history resurfacing as volunteers temporarily transform the church each year into a setting ready for about 130 Jews to celebrate the High Holy Days.

Lawyer Michael Klein will lead the services with a Torah borrowed from Temple Ramat Zion, a Conservative shul in Northridge. Klein is not an ordained rabbi and said he was “flummoxed” when he was first asked to lead services about 20 years ago. But he took a few classes at American Jewish University and now feels capable of leading the ad hoc congregation with poise.

In addition to Klein, guest speakers sharing sermons this year include Lee Rosenblum, an investment adviser; Dan Brin, president of the West Hills Neighborhood Council board of directors; and student Sam Luster, who served in U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman’s most recent campaign.

According to Klein, people have said the services are “meaningful and make a big difference in their lives.” 

“We’re helping people,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s a place where people who wouldn’t otherwise go to a service get to go and have a community. They can spend the holidays with others who are of the same belief.”

Klein said the service is very participatory. He tries to include everyone in some small way, whether it’s by bringing them up to the bimah or sharing a personal story or thought. He remembers being particularly moved by a time when an attendee, a Jewish coal miner from West Virginia, recited the Ten Commandments from memory. 

“What stands out to me is that we just do this for the community. It’s a mitzvah we do every year,” Sperling said.